When the Rat Met the MonkeyBy Cindy Hu
In 1971 I joined the staff of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau (SFCVB), now known as San Francisco Travel. It was the official destination marketing organization for the city of San Francisco, and I had landed my dream job. I would remain there for some 40 years.
As I settled into my new position, our small public relations team of three was deep into the promotion of the Year of the Rat which would arrive on Feb. 15, 1972. The Bureau had worked hand in hand with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce since 1963 when the City made its first allocation to the SFCVB for the “enhancement” of Chinatown’s traditional lunar new year celebration. The nighttime parade, which went on “come rain or stars,” was even then drawing 250,000 to 350,000 spectators a year. January and February are traditionally slow months for large citywide conventions, and Chinese New Year always fell in the early winter, when demand for hotel rooms was low and leisure travel was slow. It was as they say now, a win-win for everyone.
My boss, Mrs. Booker — I was in my 30s before I felt remotely comfortable calling her by her first name, Marge — saw something in me, I’m not sure what, and let me “pitch” a few stories. I could not boil an egg, but soon I was gathering recipes and pro tips from some of Chinatown’s legendary chefs. Dozens of press releases needed to be written. Promotional events scheduled. Photos assigned. Details to be confirmed. “How many floats will there be? How long is the Golden Dragon? Who is the grand marshal?” I found myself in frequent contact with the Chamber. Even now, I still recall the phone number: 415-982-3000. The phone was usually answered by Marion Leong. She was funny, sharp and I grew to love her. Marion would take my questions and promise me that one of the “boys” would get back to me. The “boys,” all in their 20s at the time, were David Lei, Calvin Li and Wayne Hu.
I still recall one of my first conversations with Wayne. We had an old-fashioned switchboard in the Bureau’s offices on the mezzanine level of the Fox Plaza, 1390 Market St. Our receptionist, Ruby Davis, who had a voice that would melt butter, had transferred the call to me.
I said “Hello. This is Cindy.”
“This is Wayne Hu.”
He repeated himself. “This is Wayne Hu.”
We were on the verge of a repeat of the classic Abbot and Costello routine, “Who’s on first?” when I finally blurted out, “Oh, Wayne Hugh” as in Hugh Grant.
Wayne, David and Calvin kept me up to date on parade plans and it wasn’t long before I found myself on the corner of Waverly Place and Clay Street, ready to visit a den of lions — the dancing variety. Wayne had been recruited to bring me to 109 Waverly Place where members of the of the Chung Ngai Lion Dance troupe practiced.
As I took notes and watched from the sidelines, Wayne introduced me to the prides of Chinatown. Local lions came in three colors with repertoires cued to the prestige of their trainers. There were black, or young, lions which were usually acquired by novice clubs. As the organization flourished, so did its bestiary. The multi-colored lions were venerable animals and their white beards and rainbow bodies denoted dancing prowess. These Southern-style lions differed greatly from their Northern cousins, the Beijing Sze-tse.
A shaggy flirt, the Beijing lion was an incongruous combination of chrome yellow fur and tennis shoes. Unlike his Southern counterpart whose body is sheathed in a 12-foot length of silk, the Northern lion has four prancing legs. It quickly became my favorite.
A member of Chung Ngai, Greg Li, Calvin’s brother, explained some of the steps and how adaptations of four principal Kung Fu “horse stances” figure in the lion dancer’s basic repertoire. It would require pages to describe the intricacies of lion dancing styles, postures and their symbolism. Suffice to say that from four basic movements comes a myriad of related actions.
As the practice session ended and I put away my note pad, Wayne offered to walk me back to my car. We strolled for several blocks and he noticed that I had a Nikon camera slung around my neck. We struck up a conversation about photography and he asked me if I would like to use his darkroom.
I was new to San Francisco and had just ended a short-lived, long-distance romance with a guy named Bud in Illinois. An only child, I was an Air Force “brat” and had attended a dozen schools around the world from Fairbanks, Alaska to Madrid, Spain. My roots in the City were just taking hold, but I had loved San Francisco since my first encounter with her when I was in the sixth grade and my father was stationed at Travis Air Force Base.
Wayne had just returned from a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. The oldest of seven children he was born and raised in San Francisco. He had taken on his volunteer parade duties at the behest of his father, Jackson Hu, and his mother, Gladys. The family ran a busy insurance and real estate appraisal practice at 619 Clay St., directly across from the legendary Earthquake McGoon’s. His was a politically active family who had worked for decades to fundraise and get out the votes on behalf of local, state and national Democratic candidates whose ranks included both Jack and Bobby Kennedy; Alan Cranston; Phillip and John Burton; Pat (and later Jerry) Brown; George Moscone; Dianne Feinstein; Stanley Mosk, and many others.
I should also add that Wayne was the number one son.
I knew none of this when for some reason I impulsively said, “Yes.”
And, then came love.
I’ve been told that those born in the Year of the Rat and those born in the Year of the Monkey are compatible. “They can live an everlasting and happy marriage together.” At this writing, Wayne and I have been married 43 years. We have four children and five grandchildren, all of whom have never missed a parade, and it all started at the corner of Waverly Place and Clay Street where lions still dance in the streets every winter.